Sunday 16 December 2018

Tiger excited by Rory test


Tiger Woods Photo: Getty
Tiger Woods Photo: Getty

Brian Keogh

Tiger Woods wants to prove he can still be a contender when he takes on young guns Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas in the first two rounds of the Genesis Open at Riviera.

The 14-time Major winner (42) was outgunned by seven shots by McIlroy when they were last paired together in the final round of the 2015 Masters.

But with his ailing back now on the mend and after finishing 23rd in his comeback at the Farmers Insurance Open last month, the Californian believes he's still got the right stuff in the heat of battle.

Asked if he'd be up for a back-nine duel with McIlroy at Riviera, where he hasn't played since 2006, Woods said: "I would love it. That's something we tried to do in Chicago one year but we were a little bit off the pace.

"At Augusta we were paired together not too long ago but again, we were a little bit off the pace. Maybe we can both play well and peak at the right time."

McIlroy and his father Gerry played with Woods at Thanksgiving in November and the four-time Major winner from Holywood was so impressed he predicted, "This is a different Tiger. He could stun the world - again."

Woods not only sees McIlroy as a special talent, he likes him too.

"He's just a great kid, he really is," Woods said ahead of an event that benefits his foundation. "He's got a heart of gold and his dad is fantastic. Mom's wonderful. So it's just a great family. I've loved playing with Rory over the years. We haven't played, unfortunately, as much as we would like. A lot of that is me because I got hurt and didn't play.

"But he's obviously gotten much better, worked on his game and won tournaments while I've been out. Rory has always been fun to play with, will continue to be.

"He's one of those players that when he gets it going, there are not a whole lot of guys better than him.

"He's off to a great start this year. He played really well in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Justin has already won this season in Korea. And I think we are going to have a lot of fun.

"All three of us are excited about playing with one another in this event, and I am looking forward to the challenge of not just competing against those guys but competing against the other guys in the field."

While his body is no longer what it was, Woods still believes he has got what it takes to challenge the new breed of young guns in the heat of battle, saying "Both", when asked if he'd rather be a wild card or a vice-captain in the September's Ryder Cup should he finish 20th in the standings.

"As for the guys who are on tour who are young, I can handle myself," the world No 550 said. "I just need to get there."

His transformation from being ailing superstar to fellow competitor began at the Hero World Challenge in December.

"They are starting to see me as a competitor because I wasn't for a while," he said. "They pick my brain. I am more of a playing competitor now. There is still needle."

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